The merger this week of the Yamina and Derech Eretz parties, neither of which looked likely to enter the Knesset in the coming elections, could push the new combined party over the electoral threshold, according to a Channel 12 poll published Thursday.
Yamina, led by Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, had been polling below the threshold in Israel’s unreliable yet influential election polls. Earlier this week, the party joined up with Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel’s Derech Eretz, also languishing in polls, and renamed the faction “Zionist Spirit.”
The Channel 12 survey gave Zionist Spirit four seats if elections were held now — the bare minimum number required to get into the Knesset.
Other results showed Likud receiving 33 seats, Yesh Atid 23, Blue and White-New Hope 11, Religious Zionism 9, Shas 8, United Torah Judaism 7, Joint List 6, Meretz 5, Labor 5, Yisrael Beytenu 5 and Ra’am 4.
Neither the bloc loyal to opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, with 57 seats, nor his opponents, with 53 seats, would be able to easily form a government.
Zionist Spirit has not ruled out sitting with Netanyahu, but has vowed not to provide him with the final seats he needs if he seeks to form a narrow right-wing coalition.
Still, the right-wing party would be under intense pressure to join with Netanyahu if it is indeed the deciding vote, and could yet help get the opposition leader over the finish line to a 61-seat majority in the Knesset.
The Joint List, a majority Arab party predicted to hold the remaining six seats in the 120-seat Knesset, historically does not join any coalition and is firmly against seeing Netanyahu, the former prime minister, return to power.
The poll also found that if Religious Zionism splits in two, and MKs Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich run separately, they will receive 7 and 4 seats, respectively, increasing their overall representation by two seats. However, that would leave Smotrich dangerously close to the electoral threshold. Additionally, the results showed the extra seats would be pried from Likud, leaving Netanyahu’s bloc with the same 57 total.
A central issue in the upcoming November 1 election is whether or not to back the popular but polarizing Netanyahu for prime minister. In the aftermath of the last election, Yamina refused to commit to backing Netanyahu or an alternative government. That allowed then-Yamina leader Naftali Bennett to parlay his kingmaker position into a sweetheart deal that made him premier for a year, despite heading one of the Knesset’s smallest parties.
If Zionist Spirit manages to cross the electoral threshold of four Knesset seats, it could find itself in a similar position, with the ability to tip the scales toward securing a Likud-led coalition.
Bennett, who is now alternative prime minister under the terms of a rotation agreement with Lapid, is retiring from politics and has already handed the Yamina reins to Shaked.
Netanyahu continues to be the most popular choice for prime minister, with 44 percent backing him compared to 32% for current Prime Minister Yair Lapid, according to the poll.
Another party facing changes is Meretz. Former leader Zehava Galon announced earlier this month that she was returning to politics to help prevent Netanyahu becoming premier again. Galon intends to campaign in the Meretz primaries, running for the leadership spot against MK Yair Golan, her sole challenger.
The Channel 12 poll found that with Galon at the helm, Meretz would win six seats, up one from Golan’s expected score. She would peel the extra seat away from the centrist Yesh Atid party, but still leave the two main Knesset blocs unchanged.
Israeli TV polls have historically been of questionable reliability, but nevertheless indicate trends and often steer the decision-making of politicians.
The poll was run by Mano Geva and iPanel with 503 respondents and a margin of error of 4.4%.